“Life is a puzzle; we have to put the pieces together to form a picture of what is now known as Winston-Salem.”
If there was ever a family intertwined with Winston-Salem’s history and development, it was the Grays, our tour guide explains. For over 80 years, Graylyn Estate has been a landmark in Winston-Salem, transitioning from the Grays’ personal residence to a historical center open to the public.
I arrived at the estate along with a couple dozen other guests for the Tour Pour du Jour, an evening event where attendees are invited to discover the history of Graylyn while sampling a selection of house wines. Larry Worley, the butler who would be giving us the grand tour, was happy to share the history and secrets of the home. We sat on the large, plush sofas in the living room—the largest living space in the manor—in front of the ornate fireplace. One of the beautiful elements of the home, Worley explains, “is that it’s such a unique property, but yet if you want to come in and visit or walk around, it’s perfectly OK to do that.”
Graylyn was built around 1930 by former R.J. Reynolds President Bowman Gray and his wife, Nathalie. It transitioned from the Gray family home to a Wake Forest-owned convention center when the couple’s son, Gordon Gray, donated the 55-acre estate to the university in 1972. “One of the covenants he made with Wake Forest was that the property was to be enjoyed by the community,” Worley explains. Now known as the Graylyn International Conference Center, it hosts a number of conferences, weddings, and community events during the year.
The official tour begins in the library after guests are greeted in the foyer and ushered into the manor. There are platters of cheeses and crackers to snack on, in addition to the selection of wines at the mini bar tucked away in the corner. Each tour-goer gets two complimentary glasses of wine. As the bartender, Julio, pours glasses of Prosecco, Merlot, Riesling, and number of other wines from Graylyn’s house selections, guests mingle and admire the beautiful room and historic décor. We later learn that the library’s oak paneling dates back to Louis XIV of France and originally served as the walls of his study. It was imported to Winston-Salem only after the Grays purchased it on a trip to Paris after Nathalie fell in love with the room.
Like myself, most of the attendees are locals who live near the estate, but only about half had visited before. “I’ve lived here all my life but had never been [to Graylyn] during the holiday season,” one guest comments. “That’s why I wanted to come.”
After all the guests had been served wine and were finding a seat, Worley delves straight into the history of the estate, the Gray family, and Winston-Salem as a whole. He then takes the group on a tour of the 46,000-square-foot Manor House. As we walked through the restored home, it was possible to imagine life in the rooms almost a century ago.
Anyone interested in history, or those who appreciate a beautifully designed and maintained home, should consider making a reservation for this tour. As Worley summed up at the close of the evening: “This is not just a big ol’ house sitting on the side of the road somewhere;” it’s a place with a history and a sense of wonder. The fact you can explore it while enjoying a little wine only adds to the appeal.